Now that the ACC has announced the addition of the University of Pittsburgh and Syracuse University to its growing flock of top-notch academic institutions, the next question is whether it will add more members.
All indications are that it will. The real issue is whether the number added will be two or four more.
Critical to any analysis of the next steps for the ACC will be two issues. The first is whether geographic integrity is important. The second is whether the institutions meet the existing criteria for membership, although this could include geographic location as well as quality of the institution and its sports.
With all the recent turbulence in college sports, there is one other factor that certainly plays a role: Just how stable is the conference? Among all conferences, the ACC is among the oldest and most stable. While age has not guaranteed survival, stability with growth has. And the ACC has assimilated its members better than any other conference.
Some are giving John Swofford, ACC commissioner, credit for making preemptive moves in order to save Florida State from being raided by the SEC. There is nothing like that going on. Florida State and Miami are academic institutions first. None in the SEC are, as they have proven time and again.
It is hard to see why any preemptive move was required. Much more likely is that out of the discussions with "double-digit numbers of schools" regarding membership, these institutions were the best of the crop and most ready to move.
The fact is that the announcement this week that the ACC is adding the University of Pittsburgh and Syracuse University to its roster continues the dominance of the ACC as an academic conference first, and is consistent with its vision. The dominance of the academic sides of these institutions in a conference where the major industry that college sports has become remains subject to the complete control by the academic side of its member institutions made them an ideal fit.
The most solid evidence that Florida State had nothing to do with the new members is that it just voted to add another $8 million or so to the price of departure from the conference. Paying $20 million to leave is not only golden handcuffs, for many institutions it would be insanity ever to pay this amount, especially in the current economic climate.
Besides, we all know that Florida does not want anyone else from Florida in the SEC. Why would they?
The reality is that the ACC is and remains the preeminent conference for academic institutions. This is the picture we can see by reviewing the latest US News & World Report national university rankings just released this week.
The Pac-12 and the Big Ten do have similar academic prestige to the ACC with five of their 12 members in the top 50 national universities according to the 2012 US News & World Reports' Best Colleges rankings just released. But the ACC has seven of its 12 members in the top 50, and will have 14 in the top 71 if it adds Connecticut and 15 if it adds Texas.
The SEC? One, Vanderbilt University, is in the top 50. The Big East in football? None.
The University of Connecticut and Rutgers would add two other top universities to the mix. And the University of Texas, which has been falling in the US News rankings, would shore up its academic presence by joining the ACC, although as will be seen below that move will not occur unless Texas is willing to share all its revenue from its new TV network.
The fourth potential member is more difficult to determine. However, the likelihood is that Baylor would be added if Texas joined. Baylor is a fit from the standpoint of academic prestige, will need another home if the Big 12 merges with the Big East and is uninterested in that mix of institutions, and would make sense from a geographic standpoint if Texas joins.
Of course, in this day and age, college athletics can mean big bucks. And for Texans who feel the University of Texas is worth every penny of its own University of Texas sports network, any conference that does not allow this is relegated to the "no" pile.
The major question is whether the example of the Big 12, where the network arguably did the conference in, and the needs of the Pac-12, which include the interest in having Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, will sway the Texans to go west rather than east. Because the ACC has as one of its cornerstones that athletic revenue is shared among the member schools. The Texas Network is not possible in the ACC. It just might be in the Pac-12.
Leaving the question to geography, and assuming that the University of Texas will be told to do something with revenue sharing that they have not been willing to do so far, where do they go? Between Milwaukee and Miami, where do you choose? Between Los Angeles and Raleigh, where do you choose?
For Connecticut and Rutgers, the issues are plainly geography and academic. And these issues make the almost certainly ongoing pitch for the merger of the Big East and Big 12 wholly unpalatable.
Rick Pitino might find the departure of Syracuse insane, and claim that the Big East will become a great superconference (presumably with the Big 12 merger) and Louisville's president may not but in the rough-and-tumble world of college athletics, big is better if only because it means survival.
And the ACC may have the best of all arguments.
Certainly, stretching the time zones to accommodate a Pac-12 schedule is something to consider. And whatever the situation, it is much easier to fly east rather than west.
Its different time zones (even former Big 8 and 12 member Colorado required the inclusion of another time zone) and its different culture make it an unlikely candidate for any school with a background like Texas.
In the end, it is a close call, with the math unclear until the payments are sorted out with and without Texas. A renegotiation of the ACC's media contracts will already occur because of the addition of two new schools. Adding Texas could also change the picture, as long as the ACC and ESPN can agree on terms with that school included in the package, and Texas can get out of its own contract. (It would have been malpractice not to have had a conference change clause in the contract that allows Texas out of the contract over some period of time.)
A close call. All depending on geography and Texas self-interest, including academics, if the above is correct.
Bet on Texas going elsewhere. But only slightly that way. And do not be shocked if they do join the ACC.
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